LAFAYETTE — Burying the tangle of power lines that stretch between wooden utility poles on Johnston Street has been central to the idea of redeveloping the main thoroughfare, but that aesthetic improvement would come with a hefty price tag, according to a recent study.
The cost — depending on whether some or all of the lines are buried — would range from $16 million to $26.7 million just for the mile of Johnston Street between College Drive and Roselawn Boulevard, according a study commissioned by the city-owned Lafayette Utilities System.
“It was like a sinking feeling,” City-Parish President Joey Durel said Friday when describing his reaction to the cost analysis.
Durel has maintained an interest in redeveloping Johnston Street since taking office in 2004, and burying the power lines was being considered along with a range of other improvements to transform the road into a more aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly corridor.
But he said the prospect of underground utilities now seems “impossible,” considering the cost and complications such as the need of some businesses to relocate because of the additional right-of-way needed to bury the power lines.
“This is an extremely expensive endeavor if this is something the city wants to do,” said LUS Director Terry Huval.
LUS brought in a consulting firm to study the issue because the idea of burying the power lines has been discussed for several years, but no one had a firm grasp on how much it would cost.
Early guesses ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 per foot of road, or $5 million to $8 million a mile.
The recent study estimated it would cost $3,045 per foot of road, or $16 million a mile, to bury only the electric distribution lines and leave the larger transmission lines on poles.
The study found it would cost an estimated $5,053 per foot, or $26.7 million per mile, to bury all the power lines.
The cheaper option of burying only the distribution lines was considered because those low-voltage lines account for most of the visual clutter, Huval said, but even the expense of the scaled-back option seems hard to justify.
Huval said burying power lines along Johnston Street is so expensive because of the complexities involved in retrofitting utilities in a such densely developed area, especially one that gradually transformed from a country road to a main traffic artery with little planning.
A major issue is that the existing public right-of-way along the street is already saturated with sewer, water, gas, telephone and cable lines.
To bury just the distribution power lines, the city would need an additional 15 feet of new right-of-way on each side of Johnston Street, Huval said.
To bury the small distribution lines and the larger transmission lines, the city would need an extra 5 feet on one side of the street beyond the additional 15 feet, Huval said.
He also said the utility connections for every business and home would need to be changed in areas where the electric distribution lines are buried, and 10 business in the mile between Congress and Roselawn would likely have to be relocated because the buildings are in the needed right-of-way.
“When you start having to retrofit things, it gets pretty expensive,” Huval said.
Durel said he has now asked LUS to consider leaving the power lines on the utility poles but replacing the wooden poles with large metal ones.
The large metal poles could be spaced farther apart than the wooden ones and would look more orderly because “you don’t have the poles leaning in different directions,” Durel said.
“It could be the next best alternative,” he said.
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